Behavioural interviews

Behavioural interviews are the most common style of interview. They consist of questions that require you to reflect on your experiences and present specific real-life examples to demonstrate your skills.

Behavioural questions generally begin with the following phrases:

  • Tell me about a time when...
  • Give me an example of...
  • Describe a situation when you...

These phrases prompt you to tell a story about a time when you have used a particular skill.

Why do employers use them?

Research suggests that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour and performance. Therefore employers prefer to hear evidence of how you used your skills in the past so that they can make an informed prediction as to how you will perform in the role for which you are applying.

Some common mistakes

  • Failing to be specific and telling the interviewer what you would do, rather than what you have done.
  • Not talking about their particular role/action/tasks - but speaking generally about the group/team/organisation.
  • Not taking the time to prepare interesting examples. Imagine how many times a graduate recruiter has heard a teamwork example about a group assignment
  • Not giving enough detail and making assumptions that the interviewer is following your example

Preparing for behavioural interviews

  1. Review the key selection criteria and understand the skills that are essential or desirable for the job. You can use a position description if you have one, the job ad or sometimes the organisation's website. Common skills or competencies that are tested include teamwork, communication, interpersonal, leadership, client service, problem solving, time and task management and goal setting.
  2. Prepare examples using the skills as your guide, think of examples and stories from your past experience that demonstrate each skill. Use the STAR model to structure your answers.
  3. Practice responding to questions out loud in front of the mirror or with friends. This will help you become confident in using your examples. A large part of your success is in the delivery of your response. Practice and video record your answers online - watching and listening to yourself is one of the best learning experiences.
  • STAR model

    The STAR model can be used to answer behavioural questions in written applications or in interviews. It provides a framework for talking about an experience which illustrates the competency being assessed by a particular behavioural question (note - the terms are not used in the response).

    STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

    A behavioural question typically asks for ONE example of a time when you demonstrated a particular skill or competency. The example needs to be described in detail – for written examples, 150-250 words are common. You need to use a real-life example to explain how you have actually demonstrated the skill. The employer wants to know what you have done in the past, not what you think you would do in the future. Keep the responses recent and relevant – ideally use examples within past 1-2 years. If you are answering a number of behavioural questions, try to use a range of examples.

    While the story in itself is important, it is critical to show you understand the processes involved (for example – in effective teamwork) so the employer knows that you would bring that understanding and apply to similar situations in their workplace.

    STAR model

    Situation Describe the situation / environment you were in. Include context, details and time.
    Task Describe the event/task that required resolution or accomplishment.
    Action Describe what happened including particular focus on the actions YOU took. Focus on the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’
    Result What happened? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Think about relationship outcomes as well as task outcomes.

Example behavioural questions

  1. Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.
  4. Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritise your tasks.
  5. Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.
  6. Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or co-worker.
  7. Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
  8. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
  9. Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
  10. Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
  11. Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
  12. Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
  13. Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation and had to demonstrate your coping skills.